2007-04-05 / Editorial


By Robert Morton-Ranney

In each new edition of "What Color Is Your Parachute?" Nelson Bolles reminds us that the person who gets the job isn't always the one who will do the best work. It's the prospect who comes out on top in the interview.

It was estimated at the beginning of this round in the ever-earlier presidential sweepstakes that the successful candidate would have to raise $100 million for the campaign. The initial dustup between Senators Clinton and Obama was seen by many as aimed not at voters, but at big contributors.

Leading up to the election of 2000, there was widespread agreement that the best fund-raiser in either party was a former part owner of the Texas Rangers named George W. Bush.

The difficulty here is that the purpose of the head of the U.S. government is not to raise funds.

Nor is fund-raising the only category that comes into play. The significance of the 1960 debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon is legendary. Those who listened in via radio felt Nixon won. But more people watched on television, and Kennedy was better looking.

Mitt Romney must be hoping that little slice of history gets repeated this time around. But we're not choosing the next Marlborough Man.

Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator. You just loved listening to him, no matter what he said. Enter Fred Thompson and the smooth, steady delivery of gravitas.

But we're not electing a news anchor.

Following W's ascension to the Oval Office, Supreme Court actions aside, it was suggested that a good number of Americans voted for him because they thought he was the kind of person they'd enjoy having a beer with.

It's hard to pick out any dartthrowers in this group.

The next person who redecorates the White House will have a great many duties. He or she will be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Comforter-in-Chief in the event of disaster, Celebrantin Chief at national ceremonies, Vetoer-in-Chief of congressional bills, and many, many other things.

But surely the most important task facing the next President, as has been the case with all Presidents for a great many years, is dealing with foreign countries.

Knowing how to talk to them. Knowing when to ignore them. Knowing how to encourage trade with them. Knowing when to attack them. And knowing when not to.

Now, let's see. What might be the most important skill for dealing with foreign countries?

Being a good fund-raiser? Um, not really.

Being good looking? No.

Communicating well? Ah, could be getting warmer. But when it's crunch time substance trumps style.

Sitting down next to you in a bar? I'll leave that for you to consider.

Let me see, now. Perhaps, when it comes to dealing with foreign countries, the most important skill to be brought bear would be . . . well, having experience dealing with foreign countries.

Strange idea, isn't it?

The only legal requirement for becoming President is being born here. That makes most Americans eligible. As far as practical requirements, we've touched on a few.

But what if things were set up a little differently? What if the best fund-raisers became college presidents? The good-looking people could head for Hollywood- it's a shame so many movie types can't act.

The great communicators should stick with communicating. There's always somebody around to tell them what to say, and to pay them for saying it.

And the beer buddies. Why don't they just stay in the bars?

As for the Presidency? If we wanted, we could elect people on the basis of their foreign experience. Ask them how many years they spent in the diplomatic corps. Or the Peace Corps.

Even people who have spent extended periods in other countries doing business or reporting as journalists have developed a significant understanding of another part of the world.

What we require is a President who understands what it means to say that the United States of America is not the only country on earth. It does not represent the only viewpoint. It does not house the only group of people willing to do anything to protect their way of life.

We require someone who is capable of dealing with perspectives beyond our own.

And we need a selection process that will produce appropriate leadership.

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